Asia in Review Archive (2018)
Taiwan (Republic of China)
Date of AiR edition
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Date of AiR edition
4 December 2018
Taiwan: Ministers stepping down after DPP local election defeat
(dql) In the wake of the crushing defeat of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the local elections, in which the party lost seven of the 13 cities and counties previously held while the Kuomintang won 15 out 22 races, [AiR 4/11/2018] Taiwan’s Ministers for Environmental, Transportation, and Agricultural resigned. [Focus Taiwan]
In a related development, Lin Yu-chang, reelected as Keelung City Mayor, was selected to serve as acting DPP chairperson after President Tsai Ing-wen stepped down from this office to take responsibility of the election defeat. [Taiwan News]
4 December 2018
China-US relations II: US “Freedom of Navigation Operation” in South China Sea sparks Chinese anger
(ls) The US Navy sailed the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville near the Paracel islands in the contested South China Sea. The US warship conducted what is referred to as a “Freedom of Navigation Operation”, which was just the latest in a series of operations conducted by the US navy in recent months across the region. A few days earlier, two US ships sailed through the Taiwan Strait – which China considers its territory but the US and others see as international waters open to all – prompting Beijing to send warships and fighter jets. [CNN]
Beijing lodged a diplomatic complaint with Washington, a foreign ministry spokesman said during a press briefing, calling on the US to “immediately stop such provocative actions that violate China’s sovereignty”. A statement released by the Southern Theatre Command called on the United States to properly manage its navy and air fleet to avoid miscalculations. [Rappler]
Meanwhile, satellite images reviewed by a US think tank showed China has installed a new platform on Bombay reef, a remote part of the Paracel Islands that could be used for military purposes. [South China Morning Post]
27 November 2018
Taiwan: Shift in political landscape after ruling DPP hit hard in local elections
(dql) The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a major defeat in Saturday’s local election losing seven of the 13 cities and counties it held. Overall, the DPP was able to win only six out of 22 races. In reaction to the results President Tsai Ing-wen announced her resignation as party head vowing serious self-introspection and internal reform of the party. [Taipei Times]
In a related development, Premier Lai Ching-te has offered to resign signaling taking responsibility for the party’s crushing defeat in the local. Upon Tsai’s refusal to accept his resignation, he announced to remain in his post citing the need for continuity. [Focus Taiwan]
Shifting the political landscape, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), meanwhile, won 15 seats, celebrating a strong recover after its defat in the 2014 local elections, when it won races in only six cities and counties, among them the big cities Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. [Xinhua] [Taiwan News]
In particular, the unexpected victory of the KMT in Kaohsiung, a traditional stronghold of the DPP, where the party has ruled for the last 20 years, is a promising signal for the party with regards to the 2020 legislative and presidential elections, given that the city is the nation’s third-largest with 2.28 million voters. [South China Morning Post 1]
Meanwhile, voters rejected same-sex marriage in Taiwan in a referendum which along with nine other referendums was held at the same as the local elections. [Amnesty International]
Mainland Chinese state media and officials were quick to claim Tsai’s leaning towards independence of Taiwan as cause for DPP’s defeat which demonstrated “that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has lost people’s support and conveyed a strong signal to the US that no country shall fool Taiwan residents or attempt to play the Taiwan card to contain the mainland.” [Global Times] According to Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, the election outcome “reflected the strong will of the public in Taiwan to share the benefits of peaceful development across the Taiwan Straits, and their desire to improve the island’s economy and people’s well-being.” [China Daily]
In a latest development, Beijing expressed readiness to increase cooperation between Taiwan’s cities and prefectures and the mainland. [South China Morning Post 2]
23 October 2018
Taiwan: Rally demands referendum on island’s independence
(dql) At rally on Saturday tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Taipei to demand a revision of the country’s Referendum Act to pave the way for a referendum on a formal declaration of independence. The rally was organized by the Formosa Alliance, a recently founded political foundation striving for an independence referendum in April 2019, and backed by former Presidents Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party and Lee Teng-hui of the Nationalist Party of China (Kuomintang). According to the organizers more than 130.000 protesters joint the rally. [Focus Taiwan] [Taipei Times]
23 October 2018
Cross-Strait relations: Taiwan government discusses new laws to deter citizens from mainland residence permit
(dql) In a blatant attempt to deter Taiwanese from moving to mainland China and live there, Taiwan’s government is considering legislation under which Taiwanese holding a mainland residence permit would be banned from entering public office and would be required declare their residency status. Failing to do so could be fined up to 3.200 USD. While Beijing insists that its residence permit introduced in September merely serves to provide holders easier access to a wide range of social and public services, Taipei views them as a politically motivated move to foster the impression of cross-strait unification. [South China Morning Post]
16 October 2018
Cross-Strait relations: President Tsai calls Beijing source of conflict and challenge to peace
(dql) Defying growing political and military pressure from Beijing, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen upholds an unyielding stance towards Beijing. In her speech on 10 October to mark Taiwan’s National Day she accused China of not only “damaging Cross-Strait relations” but of “seriously challenging the peaceful and stable status quo in the Taiwan Strait”. She urged the authorities in Beijing to “play a beneficial role in the region and world and not to be the source of conflict”. She vowed not to “give up Taiwan’s sovereignty” and “show the world Taiwan’s strength and resilience” in the face of “the expansion of China’s influence”. [People News, in Chinese]
16 October 2018
Can ASEAN benefit from the US-China Trade War?
(jk) The ongoing trade war between China and the US could lead to long term economic shifts in Asia. Some producers have already shifted their production to countries outside of mainland China, in order to be able to keep exporting to the US without being hit by new tariffs. Possible beneficiaries of these shift are a number of ASEAN countries that can offer low cost production and a tariff-free export to the US market. [SCMP]
Economic cooperation flourishes despite political tensions, too. Some mainland Chinese electronic companies have shifted production to Taiwan to avoid country of origin based tariffs. Vietnam has become China’s biggest trading partner within ASEAN. In June 2018, China- Vietnam economic turnover hit $11.2 billion. Much more than the $9.3 billion between China and Malaysia, which previously held the title of China’s largest ASEAN trade partner. [Business Inquirer] China is already the largest trading partner with every ASEAN country and despite some readjustments, the Belt and Road initiative will likely see numbers grow.
At the same time, at the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings hosted by Indonesia, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged global central bankers and finance ministers on Friday to guard against growing risks amidst the trade war. In a clearly less optimistic tone, he referred to concerns the trade row could upend global supply chains, and in turn, result in decreasing international trade and investment. [SCMP]
9 October 2018
US-China relations: New round of accusations
(ls/dql) Reflecting the deterioration of relations between Beijing and Washington in recent months, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a tense face-to-face exchange with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo, who arrived in Beijing on Monday after meeting Kim Jong-un on Sunday (see above), criticized the USA for “escalating trade friction,” “jeopardizing China’s rights and interests on the Taiwan issue,” and “unwarrantedly condemning Beijing on its domestic and foreign policies.” He demanded Washington to “stop the wrong course of groundlessly criticizing China and harming its core interests”. Pompeo on his side expressed “great concerns over the actions that China has taken”. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Chinese Foreign Ministry, in Chinese]
Prior to this meeting, the dangerous encounter, and near miss, between China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer Lanzhou and the US destroyer USS Decatur last week in the hotly-contested South China Sea has produced new tensions between the two countries. Highlighting the Trump administration’s focus on renewed great power competition with China and Russia, US Vice President Mike Pence insisted that the US will employ “decisive action to respond to China.” China, for its part, accused the US of endangering regional peace and stability. [Business Insider]
The incident came after US Secretary of Defence James Mattis cancelled a trip to Beijing, and the Chinese government last month denied a port visit to Hong Kong by an American warship and recalled China’s top navy officer from a visit to the United States. It appears that the likelihood that an accident could spark a possible military conflict is increasing. [South China Morning Post]
For an account on how China could use its militarization of South China Sea features to project power into the South Pacific see [Asia Times].
2 October 2018
Taiwan: Revision of National Security Act to tackle ‘fake news’ sparks fears over freedom of speech
(dql) The Taiwanese government announced that it is considering a revision of the National Security Act in a move to stop ‘fake news’ it claims comes mostly from mainland China and aimed at disrupting the island’s social order and damaging the reputation of its independence-leaning authorities. Critics and analysts, however, called upon the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to re-consider its plan warning against bringing back the times of “thought police” in Taiwan from 1949 to 1987 under Kuomintang rule. [South China Morning Post]
11 September 2018
Taiwan: State surveillance of digital communications revealed
(dql) Concerns over increasing state surveillance of digital communications in Taiwan have risen following a report of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights revealing that for criminal investigations and on grounds of national security, security and police units in the years 2015-2016 demanded social networking and digital service providers to provide the content and parties involved in the communications, as well as the location tracking and personal information of their clients. The report specified the number of disclosure requests at 70.000, with all local operators complying fully and foreign ones such as Facebook and Line partly. [South China Morning Post]
4 September 2018
Integrating Taiwan in an East Asia Defense Plan via War Games?
(hg) Stephen Bryen contemplates to include Taiwan in a coordinated defense planning with the US, Japan and South Korea. For those staying alerted amid China’s rise Taiwan represents more than a sensitive issue in diplomatic terms but also a strategic asset that has been left out of the strategic calculus although offering significant military potential – at least in terms of military hardware.
What Taiwan has to offer in this regard is for instance a modern jet fighter force of 286 planes, compared with Japan’s Air Self Defense Force’s 373 and South Korea’s 466 fighter aircraft. Together with the US Air Force’s 130 front line fighters deployed to Japan plus the US Marines’ F-18s and F-35s Bryen sees the Taiwanese arsenal as a significant contribution to counter-balance China’s 1,482 fighter aircraft of which many are obsolete for front line combat.
This potential notwithstanding, there is no effective defense coordination currently at place that would include Taiwan. Instead, however, the author recommends to decisively include Taiwan in military simulations such as NATO’s operation series Spartan Alliance. [Asia Times]
28 August 2018
China enticing Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan with the prospects of residency benefits
(jk) Beijing recently announced that China will issue the same type of personal identification card to Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan residents who live in China for six months or longer. The ID card will allow all holders access to benefits that the rest of the Chinese citizens have, including employment, education, insurance, and housing funding. In order to apply, applicants need to provide their personal information and finger prints to the Public Security Bureau. Allegedly, the ID card would also contain an embedded chip to track an individual’s whereabouts. The status can however be revoked through “harming national sovereignty, security, honor and interest.” [CNBC]
While Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam welcomed the development, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that the ID card is only a piece of card and does not mean that we (the Taiwan Government) acknowledge the political system it represents. Another Taiwan official has reminded Taiwan residents that the Chinese government has been escalating surveillance of its residents. [VoA]
21 August 2018
Taiwan: El Salvador latest country to cut ties
(dql) After Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic, El Salvador has become the third country this year to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and switch allegiance to China, decreasing the number of countries recognizing Taiwan to 17. [CNBC]
14 August 2018
China-USA-Taiwan relations: Beijing angered over signing of 2019 US National Defense Authorization Act and stopover of Taiwan’s president in the US
(dql) Amid the ongoing trade dispute, US President Trump signed the US National Defense Authorization Act 2019 which – with regards to China – suggests “a whole-of-government strategy to confront the People’s Republic of China” and the improvement of security cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India “to counter China’s rising influence in Asia, Southeast Asia, and other regions.” It further supports the improvement of Taiwan’s defense capabilities and strengthens the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in reviewing proposals to determine if foreign investments threaten national security, a measure seen by Beijing as targeting Chinese investments. [Govtrack]
Beijing has condemned the Act accusing Washington of Cold War thinking, exaggerating the level of the China-US confrontation and interfering in China’s internal affairs. [Sputnik]
In a related development, likely to further strain Sino-US relations, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen – on her way to Central and South America – arrived for a two-day stopover in Los Angeles, defying pressure from Beijing. The stopover, during which Tsai was given an unprecedentedly high level of courtesy, comes shortly after the US Taiwan Travel Act had come into force in March which for the first time allows high-level officials of the United States to visit Taiwan and vice versa and which was fiercely condemned by Beijing. [The Straits Times]
Meanwhile, state-run newspaper Global Times reports on a large-scale exercise of the PLA involving naval vessels from three theater commands conducting air defense and anti-missile live-fire exercises in the East China Sea. [Global Times] According to military observers the exercises are intended to ensure a safe environment for China’s aircraft carriers to go further out to sea and to deliver a signal to Taiwan’s independence forces. [South China Morning Post]
17 July 2018
Cross-Strait relations: No easing of tensions in sight
(dql) In a move expected to worsening the already strained tensions between Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan has put into service its 29-strong fleet of US-made Apache attack helicopters purchased back in 2008. [Rappler]
In another development, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) annual congress on Sunday reaffirmed its pledge for independence of the country by overwhelmingly vetoing down without discussion a delegate’s proposal calling for replacing previous pro-Taiwan independence resolutions of the party with a provision emphasizing the maintenance of the status quo across the Taiwan. [Taiwan News]
Meanwhile, in a meeting with a Taiwanese delegation led by the former chairman of Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang China’s President Xi Jinping reassured “confidence and ability to … advance the process toward the peaceful reunification of China” while “Taiwan Independence should be opposed”. [Xinhua]
10 July 2018
Taiwan: Former president formally charged with breach of trust
(dql) The Taipei District Prosecutors Office has indicted former President Ma Ying-jeou for criminal breach of trust in the context of his involvement in the disposal of assets owned by the Kuomintang (KMT), among them China Television, Central Motion Pictures Corp., and the Broadcasting Corp. of China. Along with Ma five other KMT officials are facing charges on either embezzlement or money laudering. [Taiwan News]
10 July 2018
US-China relations strained over escalating trade dispute and US warships Taiwan Strait passage
(dql) Last Friday the USA and China traded 25 per cent tariffs on 34 billion USD worth of each other’s goods, further escalating the ongoing trade dispute. While Washington’s tariffs apply to 818 Chinese products, ranging from semiconductors to plastics, Beijing’s tariffs apply to soybeans, fruit, fish and cars. Both sides are considering imposing further tariffs worth of 16 billion USD. [South China Morning Post]
In related moves aimed at expanding China’s economic influence in Europe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Central and Eastern European leaders at the “16+1” summit in Bulgaria to discuss investment opportunities [Deutsche Welle] while on Monday deals worth nearly 32 billion USD were signed with Germany, which is facing threats of US tariffs on imported cars, trucks and auto parts, a move which would hurt Germany’s strong auto industry. [CNBC] Ahead of the meeting in Berlin, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on attempts of Chinese spies to bribe members of Germany’s parliament in return for information in the form of “analyses”. [Reuters]
Meanwhile, a US Navy official confirmed that the warships USS Mustin and USS Benfold this weekend passed the Taiwan Strait. The passage was the first since July 2017 and comes amid strained relations between Washington and Beijing over trade, North Korea and the South China Sea. [CNN]
In a latest development, Taiwanese military sources have reportedly confirmed the plan to buy American M1A2 Abrams tanks to replace its aging fleet of main battle tanks and to serve as the frontline weapons for the armored units of the Taiwanese Army tanks in the case of an invasion by China’s land forces. [The Epoch Times]
10 June 2018
Cross-Straits relations: Chinese invasion simulated in annual military drills
(dql) Amid strained Cross-Straits relations, Taiwan conducted this week its annual five-day live-fire Han Kuang military drill including anti-landing exercises with non-live-fire “strategic confrontations” simulating military actions in case of an invasion of Chinese. [Focus Taiwan]
In a related move expected to spark Beijing’s anger, the US Senate Armed Services Committee has passed a draft bill calling for the participation on American troops the Han Kuang exercise. The bill follows previous recent passage of the a number of pro-Taiwan laws, among them the Taiwan Travel Act and the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act encouraging high-level official and military exchanges. [South China Morning Post]
3 June 2018
Taiwan: Law introducing limits for amount of political donations enacted
(dql) An amendment to the Political Donations Act approved by the parliament on Tuesday restricts the amount political parties can donate to presidential/vice-presidential and legislative candidate to NT$25 million (about US$ 881,700) and 2 million respectively. Prior to the amendment, no limits on the amount political parties can contribute to candidates existed, causing a large imbalance in campaigning power between big and small political parties. [Focus Taiwan]
27 May 2018
Taiwan once again not invited to observe World Health Assembly and other “Orwellian nonsense”
(jk) The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision making body and the world’s highest health policy apparatus composed of health ministers from member states and number of “observers”. These have from 2009 to 2016 included the Republic of China (Taiwan). For the second year in a row, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to release a press statement that the WHO has failed to invite Taipei. The assembly took place this past week in Geneva, Switzerland.
CPG Senior Research Associate Kerry Gershaneck is arguing in an opinion piece [The Nation] that this is the result of distinct political pressuring from Beijing, who’s leaders are looking to incrementally increase pressure and isolate Taiwan diplomatically in spite of the latter’s significant contribution to international public health.
China in the meantime is celebrating the exclusion of Taiwan as a success and take this as a sign that the Chinese “One China Principle” is now widely accepted. They assert that the ‘fault’ of not being invited lies firmly with the current government in Taipei who have not officially and fully embraced the “1992 consensus” and complicate “peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations” [China Daily].
The EU, US and other countries including New Zeeland and Canada have spoken out in support of Taiwanese participation and warned against the politicisation of international public health.
In related news, recent pressure by Beijing on businesses to explicitly treat Taiwan as a part of China is continuing and seen to have clear effects despite the US embassy’s call to stand firm against this kind of “Orwellian nonsense”. Associated Press has found that 20 airlines, including for example German, Canadian and British carriers now refer to Taiwan as part of China on their international websites. A very notable exception to this is currently Chinese national carrier Air China which on its US site, lists Taipei part of “Taiwan, China” but also has a Taiwan website on which it says “Taipei, Taiwan” [South China Morning Post].
Other businesses have publicly apologised to China for referring to Taiwan as a country, including clothing retailer GAP and Zara, medical equipment maker Medtronic as well as hospitality company Marriott International. The latest retailer in the spotlight was Japanese firm “Muji” which was orderd to pay a fine using packaging in China which listed the “country of origin” as Taiwan [Reuters].
Taiwan’s international position has further been weakened by the decision of Burkina Faso to cancel its official diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, as some other former diplomatic allies of Taiwan have done recently. The move leaves Taiwan with only 18 official diplomatic allies across the world, including now only one African country (Swaziland), and it has led Taiwan’s foreign minister to take responsibility and resign from his position. [Focus Taiwan]
20 May 2018
Taiwan: A war would be incredibly costly for Beijing
(jk) Grant Newsham, who has also previously been writing for CPG online [CPG Online], elaborates on the potential cost that Beijing would incur if it were to attempt a forceful unification with Taiwan. As he points out, in addition to the lives an invasion would cost on either side of the strait, Beijing would face serious economic challenges if it were to attack Taiwan and possibly face much more harm than what is currently being discussed under a potential “trade war” with the US. In spite of the apparent military superiority that Beijing has, an all-out unification war would have the potential of serious economic backlash, as well as creating the circumstances for a unified and coordinated effort by the US and its allies against the PRC. Newsham argues that to believe a short, sharp war will stun other countries and present them with a fait accompli is misleading and ill-advice for the government in Beijing [Asia Times].
Conversely, the PRC is pressing ahead with its increasingly aggressive posturing around Taiwan. Its recent live-fire drills and other military exercises around the island are a definite warning sign and have been officially labelled as such. Spokesman for the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said last Wednesday that these measures were intended as a message to Taiwanese officials who consider their autonomous government to be entirely independent of the leadership in Beijing. [Newsweek]
20 May 2018
Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou sentenced for leaking information
(jk) Taiwan’s High Court found Ma guilty of disclosing a conversation between a former legislative speaker and political rival and the then-opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) chief whip to the then-cabinet chief and his top aide in 2013.
According to the court, he is guilty of violating the Communication and Surveillance Act, which restricts civil servants from leaking classified information and protects privacy. Ma could go to prison for four months, but he can avoid this by paying a fine of roughly US$4,000. He will appeal the ruling as it is rumoured to be politically motivated and somehow fabricated or influenced by the ruling DPP which is struggling with decreasing popularity ahead of upcoming local elections later this year [South China Morning Post].
13 May 2018
China sends fighter jets near Taiwan
(hg) In the latest of a series of drills, China sent military aircraft near Taiwan and Okinawa last Friday including multiple H-6K bombers, J-11 fighters, reconnaissance planes, transport aircraft and, for the first time, Su-35 fighters which the Chinese Defense Ministry hailed on this occasion as a “new breakthrough, highlighting the new enhancements to the Air Force’s combat capability.” [The Japan News]
13 May 2018
US – China relations: tensions over harshening One-China policy
(hg) After Washington named Beijing´s order to 36 airline companies to purge their websites of references to Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries “Orwellian nonsense”, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated foreign companies would have to obey official demands on how to refer to these areas as the price of doing business in China. [The New York Times]
Possible battlegrounds in the Chinese campaign against mentioning Taiwan are manifold however. Just recently the name of the island was removed for instance also from the biography of a “Foreign Policy” contributor speaking at Savannah State University in the United States, after the co-director of the university’s Confucius Institute insisted on the removal before programs were printed. [Taiwan News]
29 April 2018
Taiwan: Universities want government to stay away from universities’ selection of administrative personnel
(dql) In a high-profile case of conflict between the government and National Taiwan University, the Association of National Universities of Taiwan has come forward with a statement calling on the government to refrain from interference in a university’s decisions on the selection of a university administrator. [Focus Taiwan] The statement’s background is the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) refusal on Wednesday to confirm National Taiwan University (NTU) professor Kuan Chung-ming, former Minister for National Development under Ma Ying-jeou, as new president of NTU chosen by its election committee in January. [Taipei Times]
29 April 2018
Taiwan: Violence over government’s military pension bill
(dql) Violence broke out when military veterans clashed with police forces during a demonstration against the cabinet’s military pension reform, leaving 84 police officers and 12 reporters were injured. [Focus Taiwan] The cabinet’s bill allows for for a gradual cut of interest rates of pensions of military veterans. While President Tsai vowed not to succumb to the violence and to push for military pension reform, the backlash is another challenge to her in the wake of steadily declining approval ratings since assuming office last year. [South China Morning Post]
Misinformation on the content of the pension reform disseminated online from China with the aim to foment anger among the military veterans against the Tsai administration, is another example for the use of propaganda and ‘fake news’ in the history of the information war between China and Taiwan, Russel Hsiao writes in [The Jamestown Foundation: China Brief].
29 April 2018
Cross-Straits relations: Taiwan simulates assaults on island in upcoming military drills
(dql) Following China’s massive show of military force in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait in the recent weeks [Air 4/4/2018], Taiwan will conduct life-fire exercises in June, simulating surprise coastal assaults to reflect increased military threats from Beijing, Taiwanese officials revealed. [South China Morning Post/Reuters]
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Chinese Defense Ministry confirmed on Thursday that a new missile, dubbed the “Guam killer” for its ability to hit the U.S. Pacific Ocean base with a conventional or nuclear warheads, has been put in service. [ABC News]
22 April 2018
Cross-Strait relations worsen over Beijing’s naval drills
(dql) In a move further souring the already strained relations between China and Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army navy this week conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and in the Western Pacific Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. [The Washington Post] [South China Morning Post]
This move comes a week after China’s navy held its largest parade ever in the South China Sea involving 48 ships, among them the aircraft carrier Liaoning, around 50 other vessels as well as more than 10,000 troops and close to 80 aircraft, including jets, bombers and early-warning planes. [AiR 3/4/2018]
In a related development, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the state-owned main contractor of China’s space program, revealed that China is working on drones capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carriers as part of a move to bring the country’s drone and aircraft carrier programs together. [Popular Science]
Meanwhile, four-star Admiral Phil Davidson, nominated to become the new commander of the US Pacific Command, warned that China has the capability of controlling the South China Sea after it has deployed electronic attack systems and other military facilities on disputed islands in the South China Sea. [The Washington Free Beacon]
22 April 2018
South China Sea
(jk) With increased Cross-Strait tensions and Taiwan climbing up the list again of most-concerning flashpoints in East Asia, the attention of international news reporting has slightly shifted away from South China Sea issues. Notwithstanding, there are plenty of stories that are worth keeping an eye out for.
Last month, state-owned enterprise PetroVietnam withdrew its consent for Spanish energy firm Repsol to move ahead with a drilling project in Vietnman’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the South China Sea. This is the second time that Repsol could not move on with an already well prepared and heavily invested in drilling project after a similar incident in July last year.
It is reported that coercion by the PRC, such as the threatening of military clashes should the drilling go ahead were to blame for the sudden pull of the plug of the project by Vietnam. Observers are concerned that for a second time, the PRC has coerced a littoral SCS state into not exploring resources within their EEZ. Apparently, recently improving ties between Vietnam and the US did not instill enough confidence in Vietnam’s leadership for them to go ahead with the project [BBC News; South China Morning Post 1]. It is worth remembering that as we have noted in AiR before, Vietnam has become the most forward leaning of the claimant states in the SCS vis-à-vis China. Now, after the Repsol episode, Vietnam is negotiating with China on joint exploration and production efforts.
In the meantime, Vietnam and Indonesia are working towards a mechanism to deal with fishing violation in their respective territorial waters which could turn into a positive example of cooperation amongst claimant states and so-called “interested parties” such as Indonesia. Over the past few years, Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of fishing vessels from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, for violating its waters. Last week, the two nations sat down as part of their third installment of a bilateral cooperation committee meeting which focused on maritime security in particular [South China Morning Post 2].
In the Philippines, photographs of Chinese military aircraft on one of the artificially developed islands within the Philippines’ EEZ have raised doubts about China’s official line not to further militarise any of the South China Sea features it has built. The pictures were allegedly taken in January this year and have now been verified by the government in the Philippines which is now considering filing an official complaint. China’s seems to keep to its successful strategy of creating facts on the ground [The Straits Times]. Despite its competing claims in the Spratly chain, the Philippines is increasing its economic ties with China. This includes plans for joint developments of gas and oil. President Duterte and President Xi agreed on this last week in a meeting in Hainan.
15 April 2018
South China Sea I: Sino-US military muscle flexing
(dql) In a move reflecting Beijing’s unabating assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS), China’s government announced live-fire exercises of the PLA in the Taiwan Strait next week, just a few hours after the conclusion of China’s biggest naval parade in the country’s history, which was reviewed by Xi Jinping. Presented at the parade were the aircraft carrier Liaoning, around 50 other vessles as well as more than 10,000 troops and close to 80 aircraft, including jets, bombers and early-warning planes. [The Times UK]
The parade was part of a three-day drill of the PLA close to its main submarine base on the south coast of Hainan province. It followed the conclusion of a week-long military drill in the South China Sea that had begun last week. [South China Morning Post 1] At the same time, US carrier Roosevelt sailed through the South China Sea as well, a nuclear-powered carrier, accompanied by its 65 supersonic F18 jets, spy planes and helicopters, en route to Manila. [Navy Times]
Meanwhile, four-star Admiral Phil Davidson, currently head of the US Fleet Forces Command, has been nominated as the new head of the US Pacific Command by Defense Secretary James Mattis, the Pentagon announced on Thursday. [Defense News] The nomination of Davidson, a specialist in anti-submarine and electronic warfare, suggests in the eyes of analysts the Pentagon’s reaction to China’s rapid advancement of submarine capabilities. Increased American Navy’s activity in the area of anti-submarine and electronic warfare are to be expected. [South China Morning Post 2]
Furthermore, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that the Trump administration has approved a marketing license enabling US industry to transfer submarine-related expertise to Taiwan, a significant step to help Taiwan implement an indigenous submarine fleet program of between six to eight boats. [Jane’s 360]
In a related development, US officials claim that China has installed military jamming equipment on fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea, which will allow Beijing to block enemy radar and communications systems as Beijing´s latest step to militarize its island bases. [Newsweek]
8 April 2018
Asia: US interest/US concerns
(hg) An interesting perspective on the US strategy towards Asia has been taken in the [The National Interest]. With a view on an economical primate, it highlights the high stakes the US still have in the larger region. Irrespective of having pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, the US are in fact decisively seeking to balance against a rising China under the label of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ Strategy and especially by leveraging a growing India as a counterweight to China. In doing so, the US continues established Western strategies in its commitment to a normative conception of freedom that is substantially underpinned by Western values centered at good governance as manifest in terms of fundamental rights, transparency and anti-corruption. At the same time, so the article, it has become clear that parts of the Trump administration do effectively frame American grand strategy by national economic interest which would render a trade deal that has strategic value but no benefit for the American economy of only limited value. [The National Interest]
As much as this reflects an obvious ‘American business first’ strand in President Trump´s foreign policy, it might, however, be doubted that economic benefit would ultimately trump security. Contrary, the new US national security strategy regarding great power competition, not terrorism, as the central challenge to US security and prosperity looking at China and Russia as the major adversaries will arguably develop the decisive momentum in engaging the Indo-Pacific, not a ‘business first’ policy.
Secretary of the US Army, Mark Esper, a former vice president for government relations at Raytheon, a major US defense contractor company, stated last week: “The future we face is increasingly uncertain. China and Russia, which have been identified as our strategic competitors, as part of this era of great competition … are modernizing. They are eroding our overmatch, and they are improving their ability to threaten our interests.” [The Daily Signal] and for a video clip [The Heritage Foundation]
The weight and implications of the present shift in security strategy are huge. A recent article of Michael T. Klare in [The Nation] claims “The screaming headline you should have seen in any paper (but haven’t) is this: The US military has made up its mind about the future. It has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East”. For the Indo-Pacific theater, PACOM Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr., has just painted a grim picture of America’s strategic position in the region, highlighting that China was emerging as a formidable threat to America’s vital interests with People Liberation Army´s capabilities “progressing faster than any other nation in the world, benefitting from robust resourcing and prioritization.” [The Nation]
At multiple points along the Eurasian maritime zone – at the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea – US forces “are already in significant contact, often jostling for position in a potentially hostile manner. At any moment, one of these encounters could provoke a firefight leading to unintended escalation and, in the end, possibly all-out combat. From there, almost anything could happen, even the use of nuclear weapons.” [The Nation]
Against this background, two recent assessments of risk scenarios concerning the South Pacific and the East China Sea are interesting.
Being less in focus of conventional risk assessments, the South Pacific remains strategically vital to the US for two key reasons that are lastly forming two sides of the same coin, the interests “to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon” and the maintenance and expansion of the US sphere of influence under the label of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’.
Interestingly, Charles Edel, a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre and former associate professor of strategy and policy at the US Naval War College, has voiced concern that the three Pacific Island nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau which are joined with the US in Compacts of Free Association that are allowing the US a strategically highly important military presence in the Pacific might come under eventually disruptive stress. [War on the Rocks]
More manifest, however, seem concerns of increasing conflict in cross-strait relations and the Est China Sea as recently expressed by a panel of maritime experts from the US, Japan and Germany hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington. From this perspective, China is seen as stepping up both its submarine presence in the East China Sea and its use of aerial drones for intelligence collection operations, while it is also said to engage in almost daily probes of Japan’s air defense including simulated cruise missile attacks on Japanese mainland. The said panel expressed in particular concern that President Xi Jinping could act towards Taiwan as President Putin did towards Crimea. Such a perception is even more significant as President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, is a strong opponent of the US ‘One China’ policy anyway (and one of Washington´s most hawkish security experts). [Asia Times]
1 April 2018
Cross-Straits relations: Chinese military jets enter Taiwanese airspace
(dql) On Monday Chinese military aircraft conducted flight drills into Taiwanese airspace crossing through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines, prompting Taiwan’s airforce to scramble jets to shadow and observe the intruding aircraft. The move came just a week after China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning sailed through the Taiwan Strait towards the South China Sea. [Taiwan News]
Both moves further worsen the already strained relations between Beijing and Taipei. Amid these strained ties, two senior U.S. Republican senators have called on the Trump administration on Monday to permit the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighter jets to Taiwan, the purchase of which the Tsai government reaffirmed earlier this month. [Reuters] [Newsweek]
25 March 2018
China-US relations: Tensions over trade and Taiwan increase
(dql) The trade dispute between China and the USA tightens in a tit-for-tat development. Reacting on President Trump’s signing on Thursday of an executive memorandum targeting Chinese imports to the USA with tariffs up to 60 billion USD [CNBC], China’s Ministry of Commerce announced plans to increase tariffs of close to 3 billion USD on US goods. [Xinhua] Prior to the Ministry’s announcement, the Chinese embassy in Washington expressed strong objection against Trump’s protectionist measure and vowed, in case of a trade war, to “fight to the end to defend its own legitimate interests with all necessary measures” [Chinese Embassy Washington] Two developments this week further complicate the situation. First, just a day after Trump’s signing of the executive memorandum the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin carried out a freedom of navigation operation in which it came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea. China’s Defense Ministry strongly objected the move arguing that it “harmed Chinese sovereignty and security, violated basic rules of international relations, and harmed regional peace and stability.” [Asia Times] Second, two senior US government officials visited Taiwan this week after the Taiwan Travel Bill, which encourages visits between U.S. and Taiwanese officials, was signed into law by President Trump last week. After Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong on Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing Ian Steff arrived in Taipei on Thursday. [South China Morning Post] The implementation of the Taiwan Travel Act triggered fierce reactions in state-run media in China. Global Times’ editorial demanded from Beijing to “strike back against strike back against Washington’s implementation of the Taiwan Travel Act” and demanded that the “mainland must also prepare itself for a direct military clash in the Taiwan Straits”, making clear “that escalation of US-Taiwan official exchanges will bring serious consequences to Taiwan.” [Global Times] Prior to these statement, Xi Jinping warned in his closing speech at the National People’s Congress that “all actions and tricks to split our country are doomed to fail and will face the condemnation of the people and history’s punishment.” [National People’s Congress China, in Chinese] Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry confirmed that China’s sole operational aircraft carrier of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Liaoning entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Wednesday. [The Diplomat]
18 March 2018
China-US relations to worsen over Trump signing Taiwan Travel Bill
(dql) In move worsening relations between Washington and Beijing already strained over trade issues, President Donald Trump on Friday signed the Taiwan Travel Bill which encourages visits between U.S. and Taiwanese officials at all levels. [Reuters]
The Chinese Embassy in Washington voiced ‘strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition’ as the bill contains clauses which seriously violates the One-China principle as the basis of China-US relations and the three joint communiques between China and the U.S. [Xinhua] [Chinese Embassy Washington, in Chinese]
Meanwhile Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and other government officials expressed gratitude. [Taiwan News]
11 March 2018
Taiwan: Amendment of Criminal Code on the way
(dql) In a move to update the Criminal Code and increase the penalties for a number of crimes, the Tsai Cabinet on Thursday approved a draft amendment. Among others, the changes include removal of the current 30-year statute of limitations on homicide and an increase of the maximum penalty for assault from three years to five years in prison. [Focus Taiwan]
4 March 2018
China-US relations: Tensions rising over trade and Taiwan Travel Act
(dql) Sino-US relations are worsening in the light of President Trump’s uncompromising stance on imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. Backed by muscular tweets on ‘good and easy to win’ trade wars, Trumps announced his decision to impose tariffs of 25% for foreign-made steel and 10% for aluminum. The President’s announcement comes just when Liu He, China’s top economic advisor, is in the US to hold talks with US government officials and business leaders on Sino-US trade issues. [Forbes]
Meanwhile, following the House of Representatives’ passage of the Taiwan Travel bill in January, the US Senate on Wednesday also approved the bill which encourages high-level visit exchange between the United States and Taiwan. [Reuters]
Beijing voiced strong dissatisfaction against the move arguing that the bill violates the One-China principle and lodged solemn representations. [Xinhua]
4 March 2018
Cross-Strait relations: Call for independence referendum launched
(ldq) Backed by former presidents Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, a campaign to call a referendum on Taiwan’s independence on April 6, 2019, was launched on Wednesday, 28 February by Formosa TV Channel chairman Kuo Bei-hong. At the related press conference the government was called on to reform the National Referendum Act to cover issues of independence as subject of referendums. The date of the launching marks the 71st anniversary of the so called ‘228’ incident, an anti-government uprising in Taiwan violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government with estimated 10,000 deaths. The date has been playing a crucial role in forming the Taiwan independence movement. [Focus Taiwan]
Meanwhile, Beijing on the same day announced measures aimed to provide Taiwanese companies and individuals freer access to opportunities and benefits on the Chinese mainland. Among other things, the new measures will allow Taiwanese companies operating on the mainland to partake in the “Made in China 2025” program – the central government’s blueprint for upgrading the country’s manufacturing sector – as well as bid for infrastructure projects, and claim various tax incentives. Taipei-based Mainland Affairs Council denounced Beijing’s move as attempt to buy political support. [South China Morning Post]
25 February 2018
Taiwan: Tsai’s Taiwan-Straits related reshuffle amidst pressure from within the party
(dql) Amidst surveys revealing nearly 60 percent of respondents dissatisfied with the President’s China policy and doubts about her stance towards China among sovereignty supporters within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, President Tsai in Friday reshuffled her cabinet. David Lee has been replaced by Presidential Office Secretary-General Joseph Wu, former chief representative of Taiwan to the United States, as foreign minister. Lee himself will head the National Security Council (NSC), replacing Yen Teh-fa who was tipped to become defense minister. Also, Chen Ming-tung was appointed as head of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s top agency in charge of China policy, replacing Chang Hsiao-yueh. Chen already held this office from 2007-2008.
Among the Cabinet members dubbed “blue” technocrats, Lee received harshest criticism from pan-green supporters suspecting him of delaying sovereignty issues, such as Taiwan’s bids for participation in the United Nation and other international organizations. [Focus Taiwan]
12 January 2018
China-US relations: Beijing angered over Taiwan Travel Act
(dql) The US House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed two bills that caused fierce opposition from Beijing: the Taiwan Travel Act and bill H.R. 3320. The first allows visits between US and Taiwan officials on all government levels up to the president. It is a follow up to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which provided the legal basis for US-Taiwan relations, but prohibited exchange of high-level officials. According to the second, the U.S. Secretary of States is directed to develop a strategy to restore Taiwan’s observer status in the Geneva-based World Health Organization. China’s foreign ministry objected both bills as a violation of the principles of the One-China policy and interference in China’s internal affairs [Los Angeles Times] [Xinhua News].
5 January 2018
Cross-Straits relations: China opens new aviation corridors over Taiwan Strait
Increasing the already frosty relations between China and Taiwan, Beijing on Thursday has unilaterally opened new flight routes over the Taiwan Strait for northbound commercial flights prompting fierce rejection from Taipei out of fear for abuse by the military. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council demanded the immediate halt of flight on those routes [Focus Taiwan]. Beijing’s action follows a high number of air force drills over the Taiwan Strait in the past months.